SEO vs. PPC: When to Use Which Search Marketing Method for Maximum Profit


It's been said before, but it bears repeating: Traffic is the lifeblood of any online undertaking. The success of an online business greatly depends on the amount of traffic it can generate for its pages. This is an indubitable fact.

What is subject to a lot of debate, however, is the matter of SEO vs. PPC, two of the most powerful traffic generating approaches. SEO stands for search engine optimization. PPC stands for pay per click. Though their end goal is the same, they are different concepts that require different techniques and methodologies.

seo vs. ppc marketing

Both are effective methods of driving visitors to a website, but one method can work very well for certain circumstances, while with the other, you may encounter difficulties generating traffic in the same situation.

To succeed with either method, or with both of them, marketers should know their strengths and limitations so they can be applied correctly under optimal conditions.

When Is It Best To Use SEO?

SEO refers to a group of techniques that are aimed to propel a website to the first page of the major search engines.

SEO is very important for online businesses, as statistics show that 80% of the traffic that can be generated for any website will come from the search engines.

The biggest search engine is undoubtedly Google, which garners more than 3.5 billion searches per day; hence, most SEO campaigns target this specific search engine.

So, when should you use SEO techniques over PPC? Below are some circumstances when SEO would prove highly beneficial for an online business.

  • When consistent results are desired. SEO has a relatively long gestation period. Getting to the first page of search engine results won’t happen overnight or even in a week. Getting to the top of the SERPs will take time. However, once your website gets there via SEO, you will enjoy sustained traffic. Also, if you keep up with your SEO campaign, working to maintain and improve results, you can stay on top for a long time and reap long-term benefits.
  • When you wish to build an authority site. An authority website is an established resource center for a particular niche. It is the “go to” website whenever members of that niche need certain information. An authority website, once it gets going, will be able to generate lots of traffic based on URL recall alone. The best way to establish an authority website is by sustainably generating traffic to your pages, eventually building up a reputation until it becomes popular enough to dominate its market. The only way to sustainably generate the traffic required is through clever content powered by smart SEO planning.
  • When you want to increase the value of your website. Websites are virtual real estates. If you’re planning to sell your website for a premium price, you have to increase its value. There are many factors that can contribute to increasing its value. Among them are amount of traffic generated, consistency of traffic generated, page rank, search engine rankings over a period of time, link popularity, and the like. All of these fall in the realm of SEO.

Keep in mind that SEO isn't "Free Clicks". It's a tremendous amount of work in creating and promoting content which takes a great deal of time and money.

When Is It Best To Use PPC? 

Now we go to the other side of the SEO vs. PPC debate.

Pay-per-click marketing is a method of advertising on search engine results pages. Basically, you bid to have your ads appear in the sponsored results when someone types in a query including your keywords.

Why is it named “pay per click”? Because you have to pay for every user who clicks on the ad you are promoting.

Popular PPC advertising platforms include Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook’s advertising platform. Niche-specific PPC systems also abound. One good example is’s advertisement option, which works wonderfully with dating offers.

So, when should you use PPC marketing? Below are some circumstances when PPC would prove highly beneficial for an online business.

  • When immediate results are desired. PPC will deliver results fast. Very fast! You can count the minutes before a rush of visitors come cascading to your pages. This is because the moment your PPC campaign is approved (provided that your bids are high enough to merit priority placement), your ads will immediately be displayed for millions of people to see. The traffic will almost be instantaneous. Hence, PPC works amazingly well with product launches, squeeze pages, CPA marketing and affiliate marketing involving high converting offers, joint venture (JV) projects, seasonal promotions, event-focused marketing, and analogous online business campaigns.
  • When highly targeted traffic is sought. Unlike SEO, PPC marketing will allow you to narrow down your prospects based on their demographic data. Many PPC platforms, like social media sites, allow you to promote to the age range, gender, income bracket, education level, and even marital status of the people who will be able to view your ad. Popular social media sites like Facebook also allow you to target people based on their hobbies. These make PPC a powerful way of reaching the narrow band of people your business needs, and leading them to your web pages.
  • When promoting a time-sensitive offer. Marketing products, services or events with an expiration date is always a race against time. Often, the long gestation period of SEO campaigns would produce belated results. For these time-sensitive offers, the expedience of PPC marketing would be perfect. Promoting an offer that will end in 2 days? No problem. PPC can deliver the traffic you need in a matter of minutes.
  • When your website isn’t designed for SEO. SEO requires content-rich websites that are regularly updated. This is the only way to 1) inform the search engines that your site is relevant, and 2) remind the search engines to keep your site at the top of the pile. Some websites are not designed for this. Squeeze pages, for example, won’t have the required content to even merit a second glance from Google. For websites such as this, traffic can be generated from PPC campaigns.
  • If you want to dominate search results for your keyword category. PPC results are displayed above the organic search results. This prominent position means that in many cases, as much as 50% of the search traffic goes to the top 3 sponsored links. By being absent from PPC you're conceding loss of all those clicks to your competitors. If you're serious about maximizing your click-share of available searches for keywords relevant to your business, you absolutely must engage in PPC!

These are some situations when you might have a preference toward one marketing method or the other. I personally believe one shouldn't be thinking in terms of SEO vs. PPC - but rather that both SEO and PPC are important, and complementary, parts of an online marketing strategy.

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Justin Freid
Aug 19, 2010

Great points - I believe using both in a complimentary manner is more important now then ever. With search engines including so many different media types in results the space for organic search results is becoming limited. By utilizing both SEO and PPC you can take up more 'spots' or 'real-estate' on a SERP.

PPC – best ppc | Hyper Affiliate Blog
Aug 19, 2010

[...] SEO vs. PPC: When to Use Organic Search, When to Use Paid Search …3 hours ago by Larry Kim  When should you use organic search engine optimization (SEO) and when should you use pay-per-click for the best results? [...]

Aug 20, 2010

When is it best to use SEO or PPC?

If yours is a brand new website, it seems like you need to buy traffic and use that as guidance for how to generate traffic with SEO. If someone has a new website, hopefully they've set aside money for PPC initially.

If someone has an existing website, they need to assess where the traffic is coming from via Google Analytics. A good analyst (as you certainly know) will find underserved areas of SEO opportunity. But those gaps can be immediately serviced with PPC advertising.

So the answer to "when is it best to use SEO or PPC?" certainly varies.

What interests me is the answer to this question?

I'm interested in selling a product for $50 on the Internet, how much shall I invest in PPC before I can assess whether marketing with this method is a success or failure?

PPC testing of higher priced services (a resume service or B:B enterprise) are even harder to test for profitability.

What I've never seen on the Internet is a thorough discussion of setting up a PPC or SEO campaign that's at least mathematically based for ROI. That's the beauty of selling products and services on the Internet with PPC, SEO, or both.

Online website marketing is both science and art, a delightful combination.

Perhaps WordStream has an article on the quantitative side of estimating the cost:benefit aspects of creating new PPC and/or SEO campaigns that revolve around the lifeblood of online marketing: keyword selection.

Thanks for the article Larry. I always learn something useful at WordStream.

Dinesh Thakur
Aug 20, 2010

A well written post ! Defined clearly about SEO & PPC needs. SEO will take time to show results, but is consistent and long lasting.
Where as PPC is quickest way to promote your business in search engines.

Alex Pupkin
Aug 22, 2010

Great post,
In fact, thanks to this remarkable growth, fundamental business requirements, such as marketing skills and techniques are now, more than ever, in high demand. As more and more people, choose to open up online “side” businesses or, decide to grow their internet home business from the ground up, it is obvious that there is a need for a better understanding of just how to go about making “their” business stand out from the rest, which means – getting noticed by increasing your online profile.

Johan Hedin
Nov 13, 2010

It's true that PPC can be an effective channel. However, working with clients in SEO and PPC, I gain access to valuable back end data. For most clients, they gain lots of SEO traffic compared to PPC although they spend lots of money in PPC. If you have already a strong brand, SEO seems to work extremely well in my experience....It all depends how you set up your SEO strategies. The key is set the right strategies and consistently work towards it and you will see results coming in...For the time it takes, it does not have to take long in my experience when you focus on long term and generic keywords in combination...Good Luck,,

Sean Hakes
Dec 28, 2010

Good points and thanks for the email and keeping in touch.

Debated areas in SEO
Jan 25, 2011

[...] traffic in the same situation. This article explains well for when is the best to use SEO and PPC: Links and contents are both important. Links are for popularity while contents are for relevancy, [...]

Mar 21, 2011

Nice post. I can definitely recommend this one to clients. It's a tough concept to grasp for some but you do a good job of explaining the differences between SEO and PPC.

Jun 23, 2011

Great post! I am new to affiliate marketing & using PPC method until my site becomes enough authorized for SEO. -Ashok 

Aug 24, 2011

One last thing that was not mentioned is using PPC to test SEO. You run a PPC campaign to get a better estimate of what the traffic will be when you are ranking for SEO.

SEO Pakistan
Sep 01, 2011

I believe that SEO is more important then ppc as i have seen a recent detailed info graph published by hubspot where i saw that users who search on internet prefer to click organic results instead of Paid results : )

Chris @ iFuse Social
Nov 21, 2011

Good stuff, my clients have had very little success in PPC other than a quick way to start ranking on the first page of Google.

vancouver web design
Jan 07, 2012

Thanks for the read Larry. I personally use both methods myself. 

New Media Sources
Mar 01, 2012

I use PPC for landing pages and A/B testing plus micro sites. SEO for content, blogs and the whole website in general.

May 17, 2012

Creative vs. AnalyticalThe people who prefer SEO are more creative, always identifying the good keyword. they need to produce the creative contentfor their blogs, articles and social media posting. other hand PPC requires more analytical skills like always watching patterns and taking advantages of working with these patterns.above post is very interesting.Thanks for posting. 

Jul 22, 2012

For me, SEO is like a no sense option nowadays. Consistent result with SEO is harder, big sites got slapped by Panda and Penguin (then what's the next??).Better we not use SEO and PPC as our primary traffic. Make SEO and PPC work for us to collect leads from traffic.Interesting post, thanks

Multi vendor shopping cart
Aug 28, 2012

Now a days things are very complicated if you are dealing with SEo to improve organic search for your website, every now and than updates from Google become hard to catter their after effcets, for me PPC is best way or social media in replacemnt of organic SEO.

Feb 16, 2013

Great tips; glad to see something worthwile about ppc coming from a search orientated site lol!  Never a replacement for organic; but it's always nice to test the waters first...

Apr 20, 2013

Great overview Larry. Thanks. I definitely prefer paid traffic (penny traffic) because it is the highest quality, targeted trafficand most importantly you’ll see fast results. That’s important to keep you motivated.

Majid Hajian
May 17, 2013

A well written post !Defined clearly about SEO & PPC needs. I personally use both methods myself.Thanks 

Andy Kuiper
May 26, 2013

Makes good sense Larry, and it's a good article to have clients read; thanks :-)

Jun 26, 2013

Hi Larry, Nice post this is a topic that is alwasy coming up you post expains the differences well.  My opinion is anyone who is really serioud about thier website and their online exposure would use a mixture of SEO and PPC to make sure that they are covered on all areas.  Some search users alwasy avoid the paid ads although you will find many only ever click on the paid ads and  even more possible dont even know the difference! ANyway nice post and great topic of discussion, thanks. Adam

Awadhesh Kumar Yadav
Nov 13, 2013

I am new bee , very interested in PPC and I dont have my own business.I want to promote CPA offer with PPC but I am not sure how to crate a website so that goole dont suspend my accountcan u plz provide some real website example who are promoting othr;s product through PPC

David Kley
Dec 18, 2013

Generally, we like to use PPC while the site is being indexed after a new build, or to target very specific terms. I completely agree with using SEO when a consistant result is desired. PPC can jump all over the place if other people outbid you. I read the whole article, very informative. Thanks for posting.

Feb 18, 2014

I stumbled across this post by accident but I thought it way quite funny to see just how much has changed with Google in the past 4 years.

Feb 25, 2014

PPC rankings can require much less work to obtain. To optimize the also require a time investment, Although its possible for a price to simple bid more and more and get tons of traffic but all of this is for short time. So it is not for small companies. And not for single person to efford

Top 3 Media
May 11, 2014

This is one of the precious information about the SEO. SEO is used all over the world to increase sales and revenue. Thanks for sharing this post. 

May 14, 2014

PPC can get you where you want to be as long as you have the means for spending your income. It's very crucial, just one wrong bid and you'll be at the end of the list. SEO will take some time to pump up your ranking but as i see it people trust more in organic result and have hesitations to click a paid ads. People tends to check the site first, then come back later. In reality conversion rate of natural listing is higher than PPC. In SEO the work won’t stop once you stop paying for it. There's no conflict in using SEO and PPC to drive traffic, they are complementary strategies. it's best to combine this techniques .

Patrick McCoy
Jun 11, 2014

Great post to stumble upon! For a long term investment strategy, SEO is the way to go for consistent rankings, traffic and hopefully leads. Getting paid search involved at the early stages ca be beneficial to get the website up and off the ground as it begins to build organic relevance. Yes, PPC is more "instant gratification" but you stand to risk a lot of budget for potentially no results. If you aren't going to implement/invest in paid search, then making sure to focus content and other optimization efforts on specific or localized terms will also help, especially with a new website just launched to the web and Google.All in all, PPC and SEO are both games, which require a lot of time, attention and keen strategies in place to make them work. Neither will work if just throwing out keywords and saying "I like that one, I'll optimize my site for it." That would be the nail in the coffin. Strategize and choose the most relevant keywords for your business, your goals and your investment budget and you should surely see success! - Patrick @ Whiteboard Creations, Cary NC 

Usman Khalid
Oct 16, 2014

Your article helps me alot thank you for sharing with us.

Arsaln A
Mar 15, 2016

A great post. In my opinion SEO is best.

Luis Fred
Mar 09, 2017

Your articles are always special and every times get new information. but this time i want to comment your efforts..

Jessica Nath
May 18, 2017

This is a great post! We actually recently published a post about this very topic on CanIRank's blog. We found that SEO was a better long-term strategy for startups when you take into account things such as consumer trust into consideration. However, you have a few good points about PPC and its immediate approach to garnering traffic.

Thanks for this awesome, informative article!

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